When we look at ויקרא, we can discern a structure that runs through the sefer. It deals with the laws of קדושה, and specifically the קדושה of place, person and time. It starts with the laws of the משכן, then the laws of the holiness of בני ישראל and the כהנים, then the holidays. The last 4 chapters are appendices: the מקלל, שמיטה, תוחכה and ערכין; we will have to see how those fit in. There is one narrative that takes up the first half of our parasha:
And if we look carefully, the narrative actually started in the end of last week’s parasha:
And this story ends tragically:
This story would seem to belong more in the end of ספר שמות, with the rest of the building and the dedication of the משכן. Why put it here? Clearly, it has a pedagogical purpose. It illustrates the holiness of the משכן. As Rashi says in אחרי מות:
Then we have laws but they don’t seem to fit the structure:
The laws of kashrut do not seem to have anything to do with the משכן. But this is what Rabbi Shulman calls an optical illusion. It’s not really about eating; the laws of what we are allowed to eat are in ספר דברים:
The laws here only mention eating in passing; they are fundamentally about טמאה and טהרה:
What is טמאה? Rav Hirsch famously connects it to the idea of death, and the things that remind us of death:
טמאה isn’t evil or even bad. Those who deal with the dead directly (the highest,“worst” level of טמאה) are called the חברא קדישא, the holy society. It is, however, inconsistent with the idea of the holy and so is forbidden within the confines of the מקדש. And that is why the laws of קשרות are in our parasha. They introduce the laws of טמאה and טהרה that continue for the next two parshiot and help define the קדושה of place of the משכן.
And if we see these laws as fundamentally symbolic (what we call חוקים), then we can appreciate what we would previously have seen as arbitrary details. There is one detail that I want to focus on in particular:
Note that this is not a difference in porosity or other physical characteristic, and it’s not related to kashering; this is just about how a vessel becomes טמא and how it can be purified.
The Kotzker goes on that there is something that the Torah goes out of its way to point out is also made of earth, an “earthenware vessel”, a כלי חרש:
This idea goes both ways: we need to make sure to judge others by who they are on the inside, not their outward appearance. And we need to be careful that what we are on the inside reflects our true values.
So these obscure rules about a long-lost ritual can carry profound messages for today, and it is with this mindset that we should approach all these laws.